[Paleopsych] TLS: (George Carey) The lay way from Lambeth

Premise Checker checker at panix.com
Tue Apr 5 17:49:20 UTC 2005

The lay way from Lambeth
The Times Literary Supplement, 4.7.2

    John Whale
    02 July 2004
    KNOW THE TRUTH. A memoir. By George Carey. 468pp. HarperCollins. £25.
    0 00 712030 3

    It was a good try, and it will probably be the last. As Archbishop of
    Canterbury between 1991 and 2002, George Carey tried to re-evangelize
    England, to call or recall the mass of English people to Christian
    belief and practice. His memoir, Know the Truth, is mainly a record of
    that enterprise. The memoir shows him to have been well equipped to
    lead the attempt. It also shows why the attempt failed.

    The Church of England corporately may well grow more modest as a

    On the evidence of the book, not least the account in its first
    hundred pages of his swift rise, Carey commanded several necessary
    gifts. He had the tenacity: once seized of an idea, he held to it.
    Drawn into Christian belief in his teens by an Evangelical vicar at
    Dagenham in East London, he nursed it through National Service in the
    RAF, and decided for ordination. He had the intellect: though he had
    left school at fifteen, he now, financed at an Evangelical crammer,
    collected six O levels and three A levels in eighteen months. He had
    the industry: to the London University first degree he took at
    theological college he added two advanced degrees while he pursued his
    career, first as an Islington curate and then on the staff of two
    successive theological colleges in London and Nottingham. He had the
    human support: Eileen Hood, the Dagenham girl he married while he was
    still a student, went with him every step thereafter. He had the
    persuasiveness: he greatly increased his congregation after he became
    a vicar in Durham, and his student body when he headed a theological
    college in Bristol. He had the self-belief as a speaker: in his brief
    time as Bishop of Bath and Wells his speciality was to descend on
    individual parishes for what he called teaching missions. He was by
    then "comfortable with a leadership role", he writes, "and the
    speaking and teaching that went with it".

    The speaking and teaching were notable for conviction rather than
    flair. Carey's memoir confirms that among his gifts has never been
    freshness of phrase.

    Commitments are burning, jobs done are splendid. The book is studded
    with judgements of the form "A nicer and more caring person would be
    difficult to find" (of a senior American bishop). For the work in
    hand, though, freshness of phrase was not required; indeed, it might
    have been a distraction.

    Missioners deal in abiding certainties that have their own abiding

    The memoir's title, Know the Truth, taken from a reported saying of
    Jesus (John 8:32), catches Carey's urge to persuade hearers and
    readers of his own chief certainty: that God exists, "is at work in
    the world, and uses people of all faiths and none to further His
    purposes". For Carey it was a matter of experience.

    When he was still a teacher of theology in his late thirties, he had
    for a while detected the iron of unbelief in his own soul. Alone in
    his room on a preaching visit to Toronto, and in an effort to recover
    his former assurance, he fell to his knees. After a long time,
    "something happened. There was no answering voice, no blinding light
    or angelic appearance - only a deepening conviction that God was
    meeting me now". He seems never to have doubted again.

    And from Bath and Wells he was posted to Canterbury through the
    influence of that other dealer in certainties, Margaret Thatcher. The
    Crown Appointments Commission, the Church of England committee of
    shifting membership which offers the prime minister two names for each
    vacant bishopric, is chaired by the prime minister's nominee (for the
    Canterbury selection Mrs Thatcher chose Lord Caldecote, a retired
    engineering don and industrialist); it always has the prime minister's
    appointments secretary among its members, and it can hardly help
    knowing the prime minister's mind. The committee members on this
    occasion understood that they were to find a youngish figure with, in
    Carey's phrase, "a yearning to put mission at the very top of his
    agenda". This was in 1990; Carey was fifty four.

    At this point in his memoir, Carey discloses an official secret; and
    he sets a useful precedent in so doing, because the present system of
    choosing bishops and archbishops is opaque, and its opacity gives the
    prime minister real power where all that is appropriate is formal
    power. Ever since the Crown Appointments Commission was established by
    James Callaghan in 1976, its members have been remarkably
    tight-lipped: the identity of the two men named in each case, and
    whether the prime minister forwarded the first or the second name to
    the Queen, has never been definitely known. Humphrey Carpenter,
    reporting, in his 1996 book Robert Runcie: The reluctant archbishop,
    Runcie's astonishment at the choice of Carey to succeed him, gives
    currency to the rumour that the Commission had placed Carey second to
    John Habgood, then Archbishop of York. Know the Truth now records that
    when the appointments secretary, Robin Catford, travelled from Downing
    Street to a hotel room near Bath station to hand over the official
    letter, Carey wanted to know whether his had been the first or the
    second name. He put the question in terms to Catford. "He replied in a
    level voice, looking at me steadily, 'I can confirm that you are the
    Commission's choice. You are the first name'." Carey explained that he
    could not otherwise have taken the job: "I was so inexperienced as a
    Bishop that the call had to be clear".

    Once enthroned, he set himself to become what he considered the first
    missionary archbishop since Augustine of Canterbury in 597. He took
    advantage of a scandal over the Church Commissioners' investment
    practices to gather the making of all church policy, which would
    include the formulation of doctrine, more nearly into his own hands.
    He began his teaching missions again in Canterbury diocese. He
    commissioned, and secured funds for, two permanently touring
    evangelists. He led a thousand young people, assembled with some
    difficulty by the English dioceses, on a week's visit to the religious
    community at Taize in France.

    He mounted a festival weekend for young Londoners. He arranged ("a
    thrilling millennium moment for me") that a booklet of his called
    Jesus 2000 should be distributed with the News of the World. He showed
    a prodigious appetite for, and belief in, meetings, each one spawning
    more. ("From that historic encounter the World Faiths Development
    Dialogue emerged . . . .") And this was not just head-down, bull-at-
    a-gate, see-it-my-way-or-face-the-fires-of-hell evangelism. He showed
    a measure of tact. He saw virtue in the Anglo-Catholic tradition that
    tugs against Evangelicalism within the Church of England, and in the
    Book of Common Prayer as a flag of unity if only Evangelicals still
    flew it. He withdrew the patronage of his office from a body with a
    history of trying to convert Jews. He learnt "to treat Islam not as a
    faith hostile to Christianity, but as a religion with many virtues and
    many similarities to our own".

    Despite this energy and this discretion, at the end of eleven years
    the Church of England was still by most indicators in steady decline.
    Part of the problem was that, obeying the missionary instinct, Carey
    spent a lot of time out of England.

    In his encounters with politicians overseas he showed courage: in
    Kenya he spoke against corruption, in Nigeria and Pakistan against
    unfairness to Christians. Yet not merely was this without effect, and
    an expense of time; it also drew attention to the awkwardness of his
    belief that "God is working His purposes out". In Rwanda the Careys
    visited a Roman Catholic church compound where Hutus had murdered
    5,000 Tutsis, mostly women and children. Human remains were
    everywhere. "But where was God when this happened?" Carey unwisely
    asks; and replies within a few lines that "the awfulness of the scene
    should not be trivialized by superficial answers".

    A greater obstacle was Carey's eclectic biblicism. He declares himself
    "absolutely convinced of the role of the Bible as the ultimate
    authority in matters of faith and morals". A test issue for him was,
    and remains, homosexual sex. He is against it because St Paul was
    (Romans 1:27); and Carey is unshaken by the contention that
    homosexuality is inborn and therefore God-made. "It would be foolish
    for the Church to change its approach while scientific knowledge about
    the condition we describe as homosexual is still incomplete." The
    cruel absurdity of this opinion is underlined by the fact that St Paul
    was also (1 Corinthians 14:34-5) against women opening their mouths in
    church, and Carey accepts both women priests and women bishops; and by
    the reported declaration of Jesus (Matthew 5:32) that marriage with a
    divorced woman is adulterous, and Carey is happy to approve it for the
    Prince of Wales. The tangle Carey has got himself into about that
    affair seems to stem only from his having been much taken with the
    royal family in general and the Prince of Wales in particular ("a more
    caring and compassionate man would be hard to find"), and his wanting
    to spread a little happiness in the Prince's direction.

    Even among Christians or potential Christians friendly to biblicism,
    these inconsistencies were dismaying. For believers or half-believers
    who rely not so much on the word as on the symbol, and whose
    preferences may well prove the more durable as the ambiguities of the
    word are more and more debated, the appeal to Scripture was still less

    Yet beyond these two groups, and beyond the dwindling band of
    latitudinarians that stands between them, Carey's problem was the
    number of his fellow citizens who are simply unresponsive to religion.
    It is a matter of common observation that most people in England now
    find it possible to pursue happiness and usefulness without anything
    more than sporadic and limited recourse to religious institutions and
    religious ideas. Near the end of his story, Carey declares that
    "Britain is still a predominantly Christian country". Even with his
    fief extended by this addition of Wales and especially Scotland, where
    religion obtrudes more into ordinary life than it does in England, the
    claim is hard to make sense of. It would be easier to defend if he had
    said "a country where a residual Christianity is ineradicable". The
    grounds for optimism he advances are that the numbers of men and women
    ready to join the Church of England's professional ministry have
    increased of late years, and so have the sums of money subscribed by
    Church of England congregations. But these figures relate to

    Certainly there will always be activists: people whose natural
    disposition is to ponder the transcendent, and whose effort to lead a
    principled life is buttressed by the idea of a God who approves a
    certain kind of conduct and nevertheless forgives lapses from it. Yet
    the survival of this irreducible remnant by no means imports the
    survival of the Church that Carey has known. Funds are failing: the
    givers will soon not be able to pay for the ministers. Lay ministry,
    already on the increase, will become the rule rather than the

    Lay ministers, people who keep hold of the weekday job, are not bound
    to a common line by professional loyalties or anxieties. Doctrinal
    discipline will go on fraying: the assertive will give way to the
    exploratory, the tentative. Salaried administrative staff, lay as well
    as clerical, in expensive office buildings in London and the cathedral
    cities will be unreplaced as they retire. These changes will not free
    the Church of England from internal strife; they will deliver it
    instead from the notion that it has the duty, because the capacity, to
    organize a single voice and use it to keep addressing the nation. Lord
    Carey's experience, as laid out in his memoir, will have demonstrated
    that there is no other course except to embrace this new humility. To
    that extent his evangelistic foray will have done his Church a

More information about the paleopsych mailing list